There are four good reasons not to believe this story:
1. It’s based on an item in the Nation.
2. It involves believing something Robert Novak said.
3. Kevin Drum has it, but no one else seems to have picked it up yet. (Kevin’s own credibility isn’t at issue; but that his considerable authority doesn’t seem to have been enough to launch the story makes me hesitate to believe it.)
4. If true, it would be just too ugly for words: much, much lower and shabbier, by the rules these folks play by, than anything else this Administration has done to date.
So I’m hoping we see this thoroughly debunked, and soon. I will link to anything I see, or quote (anonymously) anything I get by email, either confirming or discrediting. On the other hand, if it’s true, it ought to be shouted from the housetops. And I have the horrible feeling that it is true, in substantial part, because I can’t figure out anther story that fits the facts.
The background: The administration has been making personal attacks (*) on Joseph Wilson , the former Ambassador to Gabon whom the CIA sent to Niger to check out the yellowcake story and whose op-ed in the Times blew it wide open. That’s not in dispute, and not surprising. (Though what Novak writes about Wilson’s personal heroism makes it even more discreditable than it would otherwise be, the willingness of GWB and his fellow chickenhawks to denigrate actual patriotic heroes has been obvious for a long time: ask Max Cleland.)
The story: A Novak column Monday outed Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as an undercover CIA operative, though that fact, if true, had little or no relevance to the story itself. The information was attributed to “senior Administration officials,” which one of Kevin’s commentators says means people at the Deputy rank. Two people at that level doing something isn’t free-lancing: that’s a decision made at, or at least cleared by, a higher level even that theirs.
If Wilson’s wife isn’t a CIA agent, her ability to do her actual job (she works for a consulting firm) has been compromised, as have her personal relationships. The lives of people she has met with abroad, who might be suspected of having given her sensitive information, have been put at risk. Perhaps she has been put at risk, too.
If she is a CIA agent, her life has certainly been put at risk, and the lives of her foreign sources have been put at grave risk. That reduces our ability to collect intelligence in the future. Of course, on this hypothesis her career is over, now that her cover has been blown. In addition, whoever gave Novak the information (though not Novak himself) is guilty of a felony punishable by five years in prison.
If Novak was given the information he claims to have been given as he claims to have been given it, those are the only two possibilities: it was a vicious, and largely pointless, act of cruelty, or it was a vicious, and largely pointless, act of cruelty that also compromised intelligence sources and methods and constituted a federal offense.
The third possibility is that Novak was making it up, for reasons of his own. What makes me doubt this is the generally warm tone toward Wilson that Novak takes in his article. And of course if Plame has been working for the CIA, Novak must have found out somehow.
And I’m inclined to think that Wilson’s wife does, or did, in fact have some intelligence role, simply because, apparently, she hasn’t denied it or otherwise spoken out. That would be the icing on the cake, of course: if she really is a spook, it would be a violation of law for her to complain about having had a target painted on her shirtfront, because she couldn’t do so without confirming the fact of her intelligence status, which she is sworn to conceal.
I can’t think of a fourth possibility.
Unless this gets shot down soon, it calls for both Congressional hearings and a special prosecutor. And if it’s true, and Bush doesn’t fire those involved, and if, under those circumstances, George Tenet doesn’t resign in protest, then he more than deserves the humiliation the Bushies have put him through.
Note that nothing in the story tends to discredit Wilson or the evidence he brought back. If the Administration, in the persons of not one but two Deputy Secretaries or the equivalent, did this to him and his wife, it was an act of mere revenge, and of course a warning to others not to incur the Wrath of Rove in the future.
The Yellowcake Road story was fairly damning, and the bungled cover-up was more damning, but mostly as a synecdoche of this administration’s rather post-modern approach to the difference between truth and falsehood.
But this latest — if true, which we, or at least I, don’t know — would involve a completely different magnitude of villainy. Deliberately outing one of your own spies as an act of political revenge would be a truly unforgivable deed, and one that wouldn’t become any more forgivable if tomorrow MI5 produced an invoice for 300 tons of yellowcake with Saddam Hussein’s signature and thumbprint on it as the recipient.
I hoped, and hope, that the yellowcake story as we now seem to know it turns out to be accurate, and to be believed, because it would merely demonstrate to the skeptical something I already believed to be true in general.
But I hope that this new story somehow turns out to be false. Just thinking about it makes me queasy, the way the first scene of The Count of Monte Cristo made me queasy when I read it as a teenager. I’d rather not live on a planet where such things are done, and I’d like to think that no American administration could be capable of doing what seems to have just been done.
UPDATES AND RELATED POSTS
July 29 Was Revealing Valerie Plame Wilson’s Identity a Crime? (updated July 31)